I.love.South.Park. There, I said it. I love my community in North Park, of course, but South Park is just, well, special. South Park, the northern portion of Greater Golden Hill in San Diego, is like a small town tucked away inside of a very large city. My favorite source for details about the community is this one, and if you aren’t prepared for my crush on South Park to spill all over this post about the new restaurant Buona Forchetta, you may want to turn away now. Otherwise, let me tell you about an interesting night out, a new restaurant and one of the best little villages in San Diego…
I’ve long enjoyed the work of Chef Ricardo at Alchemy – not to mention Alchemy’s commitment to youth nutrition and being a good neighbor – so I wondered a bit what impact a new restaurant across the street might have. Could the southern hub of South Park handle a second eatery? I hope so. And perhaps a nice little outdoor area in front of Buona Forchetta will enable Alchemy to drop a few tables along the 30th Street edge of the restaurant and help more people get a feel for what they are all about. But this is really about the adventure we had at the new pizza spot, so that’s where I’ll focus my attention. First, it’s useful to know that the Buona Forchetta describes a type of person, not an object (read here). Totally random aside, the Bird Park Summer Concerts up at Pershing–a totally volunteer effort put on with no financial help from the City or the County–are coming back in a few months, check out THIS year’s line up here. Okay, back to the story.
Through the miracle of Twitter, eight strangers came together to break bread and give the restaurant a run for its money (technically included two couples, which would be weird if they were strangers to each other, but that complicates the story). I’ve always wondered what it might be like to view a meal through the lens of a food writer, and so when Keli Dailey of the UT (and formerly from here) tweeted about a trip I thought it sounded like fun. I like her writing and very much like food and meeting new people, and thus an outing was born. Marie (of the food blog Meandering Eats), her husband, Erin Jackson (who writes for San Diego Magazine and a bunch of other local magazines), Howard Blackson (improving the country one form-based code at a time), Wife (who is an expert in this) and I rounded out the table. We even bumped into one of my favorite human beings and her girlfriend as we were being seated. You know those people whose energy is just so positive they make you feel good to be around them? She’s one of those and I wish we’d see more of each other. Alas, only so many hours in the day. And the great thing about our part of the city is you can bump into people just meandering about the various neighborhoods.
Okay, okay, let’s get to the food. I like taking pictures of food, and talking about food, and eating food. And I judge food based first on how it tastes, followed very closely by how it got to my table (service), how it got to the restaurant (supply chain), and how it got out of the ground or off the farm (the workers). I heard a great line that night, it was “I can’t eat your values, I can only eat your flavors.” It is a solid reminder that failed execution—in any area of life—can crush the best intentions. I suppose it’s high time I embraced that this post is less about the food and more about the experience. And since Marie had this high-end food camera I’ll just link to her good photos once she posts them, but we did eat, I swear. There was this
It was Buona Forchetta’s version of a carbonara. The house made pasta was very good, the bits of bacon were quite tasty, even the egg worked, so I expected the whole dish would be very, very good. Oddly, as a whole it was just okay. It was like the fallacy of composition coming alive on my plate. Having had carbonara in several cities, I had expectations. I won’t say high expectations, but they were there. This part of the meal left me a bit underwhelmed. What did not leave me underwhelmed was our Persian/Roman server Ashkan (pron Osh-CON, Osh for short). He was an absolutely delightful person. He had good knowledge of the menu, wasn’t afraid to chat about himself a bit (his parents moved to Rome to study at 18, fell in love, and the rest is history – such a good story), and added just enough to the dining experience. Like many servers, he’s a student (shout-out to UCSD Management Sciences program) and like many Californians he hedged a bit on whether he preferred San Francisco to San Diego. As a native San Diegan whose lived in several states, I’m biased in favor of the easy manor I find San Diego to have, but trips to San Francisco – and it’s nationally renowned food culture – always make me happy. Nevertheless, Ash was a solid part of our night without being too in our space.
Back to the food, I managed to snap this photo of our caprese, which Wife and I shared to start.
We don’t often eat in large groups of people we don’t know, so I might have been out of bounds ordering an item for just us along the way, but we are caprese fans and it’s not really a sharable dish, after all. Not a big deal, of course, but a little speed bump in navigating this different type of communal dining. I found the mozzarella to be within the acceptable range of firm. That is, it was not so firm that it was meant for grating but not so soft that it deconstructs into a blob before you can lift your fork. As far as the flavor goes, I’d say it was like a solid “B” student who was taking slightly challenging, but not advanced, classes. A good effort, but not great. I want the cheese to be slightly salty, a mostly firm tomato and basil I can really smell before I taste. This was close, but not quite there. Next up were the pizzas. Again, I’ll be leaning on Meandering Eats to put the full range of what hit the table, I’ll just share this
Which was one of the pizzas on this rather extensive menu. I enjoyed the lightly fried, then baked dough of our Le Pizze Fritte (translation is straight forward). I didn’t think slightly friend pizza could be good–it was. I can’t remember which toppings we had, but the real difference maker was the dough, anyway, so I’d put this on the order list if you go. The other real standout on the menu was the Scarpinocc. Marie had apparently done a little advanced planning while waiting to be seated and learned that this was an Italian dumpling. Here’s a short description of this dish from someone in Italy (from the same region as Buona Forchetta’s co-owner, by the way). There was too much going on at the table for me to really immerse myself in the flavors enough to describe what was inside, pecorino and basil and maybe some spinach, I think. But if you’ve found other recommendations I’ve made to be good then I’d strongly consider adding this to the list. Unless you don’t like pasta, of course, then you should skip it.
Our night was spent embracing the outside space, with its characteristic South Park white lights and lovely San Diego February temperature. We talked a bit about food, about complacency and whether the San Diego food scene was moribund (definition here). I realized a few things as I sat amongst the colliding worlds of food and ‘place’ and community. I love food, both for its own sake and for the adventures and sharing that come on the other end of a new menu and an interesting conversation. Writing about food for a living seems quite hard, both technically and emotionally. I suspect you have to think about more nuances when describing what you’ve just eaten if the audience really is to understand the food experience. And an important point that struck me is that I view our San Diego food scene through a relatively simple lens. If it tastes good and the flavors work well together, I’ve checked an important box. If the service team puts together a pleasant experience so that I feel connected to where I’m eating and the people bringing me the food, I’ve checked an important box. And if I believe the owners care about the food and the people who’ve brought it to me, I’ve checked an important box.
The point is, I realized I don’t view our city’s food scene in a broad context, relative to the other large cities in the country. I view it in the context of what I want out of a food experience in this town. Which means interesting food that is prepared well by people who care about their food and their people. San Diego’s confluence of international influences is still unfolding as the Horn of Africa, Mexico, Vietnamese and Philippine cuisine’s slowly shift the breadth of how San Diego does food. And there are talented chefs in this town who want to create.
PS – Howard told us a very cool bit about how
McKinley Elementary Albert Einstein Academy is going to raise money by having the kids learn farming by growing hops, then Alchemy and Hamilton’s will sell a beer based on those hops and the school will get part of the proceeds. This seems like a grand way to teach a variety of topics, but I suppose I kind of wonder what people outside of our 30th Street bubble think. Yeah or nay on elementary school students dabbling in the brewery sciences? Anyway, good times, interesting night, people (and South Park) make me smile. Have a good one.